How on earth does a British, local politician get involved with candidates in Botswana? I received an e mail one day asking if I would mentor a young, female politician in Africa. The work would be done through internet connections, rather than in person.
The e mail was from the African Liberal Network. They were looking to improve the opportunities for female candidates and wanted experienced local politicians in the UK to help.
This might sound unusual, but actually, there are a number of British and International organisations that help develop democratic processes in the developing world and in emerging democracies.
In the UK, political parties are linked to the Westminster Foundation for Democracy, which is funded through Defra. Working, sometimes singly, sometimes with others, the UK’s major political parties seek to enrich and enable through programmes funded by WFD.
Many countries have similar organisations. In the US, for example, the National Democratic Institute operates in a similar way. Working in emerging democracies, it seeks to educate politicians as to how they can be more inclusive, better able to manage change processes and invigorate democracy through active campaigning.
Last year, I took part in one such training session in the Balkans. It was really interesting to work with those in leadership positions and challenge their view of political activism and how it can relate to people and communities.
The experience was invigorating, absorbing and educative. I learned a huge amount about life and politics in a new democracies and how things that we take for granted are both innovative and occasionally unreal! Canvassing members of the public, for example, to ask their views on a political issue was thought to be impossible, until we went out onto the main street in Sarajevo and did it.
But I’ve strayed from the purpose of this article. So, back to Botswana.
Marie – not her real name – was the young woman with whom I worked. She wanted to know about speech making; about community working; about developing herself as a serious candidate. So, that is precisely what we did.
Over a period of months, Marie and I worked on her research for speeches, her delivery, presentation and breathing techniques. Community was important, but, not being from Botswana, I needed to learn from her how communities worked. Only then, could we work on her relationship with people and how she wanted to converse with them.
Finally, her work in the party was gone through and we looked at how she could build a profile and seek both acceptance as a candidate and election to that role.
It was a great opportunity to use experience gained in the UK, to enable personal political growth in another country. It was, in every sense of the word, a privilege.
And so, when our time came to an end, I thought I had finished in the role of mentor. But, fate had other ideas!
Through WFD and the party, I am about to start a new mentoring role, with two young women in Africa. One is in Burkina Faso and the other in Morocco. WhatsApp is proving to be a remarkable tool for the work and our first meeting, with the colleague from Burkina Faso, was held this week.
My challenge is that they are both French speakers, so our work will be conducted in that language! Interesting it most certainly will be. There will be much to learn from both of them.
Cllr Flo Clucas OBE is Cheltenham Borough Councillor for Swindon Village. She is the former deputy leader of Liverpool Council – having served on the council for twenty-six years. She is the former Chair of Liberal Democrat Women and a Visiting Fellow at the University of Liverpool.